Faculty of Science URSA PhD project: Urban ecology of spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta) – behavioural plasticity and drivers of human wildlife conflict in Malawi

   Department of Life Sciences

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  Dr Emma Stone, Prof Edward Feil  No more applications being accepted  Competition Funded PhD Project (UK Students Only)

About the Project

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project commencing in September 2024.

Large carnivores are in global decline [1]. The distribution and abundance of carnivores is affected by anthropogenic pressures, including habitat fragmentation and degradation and human-wildlife conflict (HWC). Interactions between people and wildlife are increasing due to multiple factors including rapid expansion of cities. This is of particular concern with carnivores [2-3], as even small species can be perceived as threatening [4]. Despite the highest rates of urbanization occurring in Africa, to date the majority of urban carnivore studies have focused on European and Asian cities [5-6].

Lilongwe City (Malawi, Africa) supports a population of urban spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta). However, HWC is frequent often resulting in persecution and extermination. Previous research of anthropogenic effects on spotted hyaena has focused on east Africa [7-8] where some aspects of hyaena-human coexistence has been studied. However, no studies have assessed the impacts of urbanization on the ecology and welfare of urban spotted hyaena.

Carnivore Research Malawi (CRM), a project of the University of Bath, has been studying the population of urban spotted hyaena in Lilongwe since 2015. Working with CRM, the PhD student will seek to understand the drivers of HWC and the impacts of urban living on the welfare and survival of spotted hyaena in Lilongwe City.

The welfare and ecology of spotted hyaena will be compared between urban (Lilongwe) and rural (Kasungu National Park) populations. Using free darting and den observations the following indicators will be compared: faecal/hair cortisol levels (a proxy of stress), body condition, haematological parameters, and disease (bacterial, toxoplasmosis and rabies). Survival and clan composition will be measured using remote camera trapping at dens, and spatial and resource use will be analysed using GPS tracking. Behavioural experiments [9] will assess boldness in hyaena to understand the propensity for HWC, and therefore mortality and stress [10].

Questionnaire surveys will identify the nature of HWC and impacts on communities. Surveys will assess community opinions of hyaena and conflict and drivers of persecution and event outcomes. Results will inform HWC mitigation, population conservation and welfare management to enhance the survival and welfare of spotted hyaena and communities under increasing urbanization.

Project keywords: Urban ecology, Carnivore Ecology, Spotted Hyaena, Crocuta crocuta, Human-wildlife Conflict, Conservation Biology, African Ecology 

Applicants should hold, or expect to receive, a First Class or high Upper Second Class UK Honours degree (or the equivalent) in a relevant subject. Applicants must hold a Drivers licence. 

The project involves significant periods conducting field work in remote locations in Malawi, hence field work experience is essential

Desirable skills and experience:

  • A master’s level qualification would also be advantageous
  • Off road 4x4 driving Field work in remote locations, particularly in developing countries
  • Field work experience with carnivores, (hyaena in particular) is desirable
  • Use of camera traps in the field and analysis of camera trapping data (e.g. occupancy modelling)
  • Home range and spatial analysis
  • Experienced in generalised linear modelling and GIS Experience of DNA extraction and PCR analysis

Non-UK applicants must meet our English language entry requirement.

Enquiries and Applications:

Informal enquiries are encouraged and should be directed to Dr Emma Stone, [Email Address Removed]

Formal applications should be submitted via the University of Bath’s online application form for a PhD in Biology prior to the application deadline of Sunday 10 December 2023.


When completing the application form, please:

1.      In the Funding your studies section, select ‘University of Bath URSA’ as the studentship for which you are applying.

2.      In the Your PhD project section, quote the project title of this project and the name of the lead supervisor in the appropriate boxes. 

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found on our website.

Funding Eligibility:

To be eligible for funding, you must qualify as a Home student. The eligibility criteria for Home fee status are detailed and too complex to be summarised here in full; however, as a general guide, the following applicants will normally qualify subject to meeting residency requirements: UK and Irish nationals (living in the UK or EEA/Switzerland), those with Indefinite Leave to Remain and EU nationals with pre-settled or settled status in the UK under the EU Settlement Scheme. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Additional information may be found on our fee status guidance webpage, on the GOV.UK website and on the UKCISA website.

Although not eligible for the studentship funding advertised here, exceptional Overseas students (e.g. with a UK Master’s Distinction or international equivalent and relevant research experience), should contact with the lead supervisor before submitting an application to enquire about potential other funding opportunities.

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion:

We value a diverse research environment and aim to be an inclusive university, where difference is celebrated and respected. We welcome and encourage applications from under-represented groups.

If you have circumstances that you feel we should be aware of that have affected your educational attainment, then please feel free to tell us about it in your application form. The best way to do this is a short paragraph at the end of your personal statement.

Architecture, Building & Planning (3) Biological Sciences (4)

Funding Notes

A studentship includes Home tuition fees, a stipend (£18,622 per annum, 2023/24 rate) and research/training expenses (£1,000 per annum) for up to 3.5 years. Eligibility criteria apply – see Funding Eligibility section above.


1. Wolf, C., and Ripple, W. J. (2018). Rewilding the world's large carnivores. Roy.
Soc. Open Sci. 5:172235. doi: 10.1098/rsos.172235
2. Elliot, E.E., Vallance, S. & Molles, L.E. (2016). Coexisting with coyotes (Canis
latrans) in an urban environment. Urban Ecosystems, 19:1335–1350.
3. Knopff, A. A., Knopff, K. H., & St. Clair, C. C. (2016). Tolerance for cougars
diminished by high perception of risk. Ecology and Society, 21 (4).
4. König, A. (2008). Fears, attitudes and opinions of suburban residents with
regards to their urban foxes. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 54 (1):101–
5. Marzluff, J.M., Shulenburger, E., Endlicher, W., Alberti, M., Bradley, G., Ryan,
C., Simon, U., and ZumBrunnen, C. (2008). Urban ecology and international
perspective on the interactions between humans and nature. Springer New
6. Pauchard, A., Aguayo, M., Peña, E., and Urrutia, R. (2006). Multiple effects of
urbanization on the biodiversity of developing countries: The case of a fastgrowing metropolitan area Concepción, Chile), Biological Conservation, 127 (3):
7. Abay, G.Y., Bauer, H., Gebrihiwot, K. & Deckers, J. (2011) Peri-urban spotted
hyena (Crocuta crocuta) in Northern Ethiopia: diet, economic impact, and
abundance. European Journal of Wildlife Research, 57: 759– 765.
8. Yirga, G., Leirs, H., De Iongh, H.H., Asmelash, T., Gebrehiwot, K., Deckers, J., et
al. (2015). Spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) concentrate around urban waste
dumps across Tigray, northern Ethiopia. Wildlife Research, 42 (7):563–9.
9. Padovani, R., Shi, Z., & Harris, S. (2020). Are British urban foxes (Vulpes vulpes)
“bold”? The importance of understanding human-wildlife interactions in urban
areas. Ecology & Evolution. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.7087
10. Gering, E. et al. (2020). Time Makes You Older, Parasites Make You Bolder —
Toxoplasma Gondii Infections Predict Hyena Boldness toward Definitive Lion
Hosts. In: , et al. Evolution in Action: Past, Present and Future. Genetic and
Evolutionary Computation. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-

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